Ky. Voices: EPA stalling on mine permits, hurting jobs

Bill Bissett is president of the Kentucky Coal Association.
Bill Bissett is president of the Kentucky Coal Association.

As president of the Kentucky Coal Association, I want to respond to your recent editorial in which you condemned Sen. Mitch McConnell for his effort to bring legislative reform to the Obama administration's Clean Water Act permit program.

Your theme appears to be that the Eastern Kentucky coal mining industry is in such desperate economic straits that we should hasten its demise rather than adopt McConnell's reasonable proposal to remove the artificial impediments erected by the Obama administration.

You base your conclusions in large part on an online poll conducted by an Eastern Kentucky newspaper as to whether passage of McConnell's legislation would "revive" the industry. As of this writing, you will be interested to know that a significant majority of respondents now believe that McConnell's bill would help our industry.

The simple fact is that hundreds of applications for new mining projects are pending before the environmental regulatory agencies that would employ thousands of people and contribute millions of tax dollars to state and local governments. The pendency of these applications belies the "coal is dead" narrative so vigorously promoted by your newspaper and other anti-coal pundits like the mayor of New York City, Michael Bloomberg.

Unfortunately, these proposed new mining projects are unlikely to materialize unless legislation such as that proposed by McConnell is enacted. A bitter fact of life is that the Environmental Protection Agency is following a policy designed to impede the Kentucky coal mining industry.

Since the EPA issued its infamous Appalachian coal mine permit guidance on April 1, 2010 (since invalidated by the federal courts), there has been only one individual Clean Water Act permit for a new or expanded surface mining project in Eastern Kentucky that has not been vetoed by EPA.

In contrast, more than 40 such projects have been approved by the Kentucky Energy and Environmental Cabinet and later vetoed by EPA.

Although appeals of the EPA vetoes were filed in December 2010, EPA has taken no final action on the permits two and a half years later.

In response to litigation by the Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet and the Kentucky Coal Association, the United States District Court for the District of Columbia ruled that EPA's administration of the Clean Water Act permit program violated both the Clean Water Act and the Administrative Procedures Act.

For those of us in Kentucky who understand the importance of coal mining and have relied on it for generations to build our communities, we appreciate having a United States senator who is willing to fight for our livelihoods rather than simply declare it dead as your editorial page seems so eager to do.

At issue: May 7 Herald-Leader editorial, "More leadership, fewer platitudes; McConnell antics no help to E. Ky."

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